Having already dissected his cowboy iconography, Clint Eastwood moves on to the other side of his screen persona in his first policier as director. The Dirty Harry armor already frayed from the first appearance -- a whiskey bottle dropped on the pavement, the sneer directed inwards for a thick Phoenix cop, "I just do what I'm told." What he's told is to escort "a nothing witness for a nothing trial," Sondra Locke, a hooker, Finch College graduate and mouthy counter-puncher, languishing in a Las Vegas cell. There's a price on her head, though, and the odds are so grim that gamblers are booking (50-to-1 and rising). Eastwood is sure it's the mob after them, but his badge becomes mere tin as corruption is revealed to extend to his own department, commissioner William Prince near the top: the line between cop and whore is a thin one, and Locke, a beat ahead of her protector, sums it up in the back of a patrol car, to the fury of leering constable Bill McKinney. Eastwood cuffs Locke and she kicks him in the balls, but their survival hinges on displays of their assigned "macho" and "whore" roles, him playing badass pig to a gang of chopper hogs and her inviting gang rape to halt Clint's beating. Eastwood's control is such that technique becomes jazz, helicopter shots of buildings to Jerry Fielding's score for the opening credits, compositions built around phone booths and edifices, or a shift to abstraction for voluminous fusillades -- deluges of ammo tearing a house to its foundations (a Keaton gag compounded by a sign reading, "God makes house calls"), then illuminating the desolate darkness of the desert ("God gives eternal life"). Eastwood locates nobility in a rundown motel, a lunkhead coming to terms with his dreams and a gal-for-rental adjusting her life with two phone calls, preparation for the eponymous acid test, a bus hijacked and fortified for a climax of ludicrous integrity, their route to City Hall showered with thousands of bullets from every which way. A personal vision, as bold and outrageous as late-Peckinpah's, of Man versus the Cosmos, or of the megastar becoming introspective artist within a mass-entertainment industry. With Pat Hingle.
--- Fernando F. Croce